The Congress party on Thursday wrested Jalalabad Assembly seat back from the Akalis after losing it to them 12 years ago, in 2007. The seat, seen as a SAD stronghold, was represented by Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal since 2009, till he vacated it after being elected Ferozepur MP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
On Thursday, the Congress staged an upset with its candidate Raminder Awla prevailing over SAD’s Dr Raj Singh. Throughout the campaign, Sukhbir had told voters that Jalalabad’s “registry” was in his name and he was only giving it “on lease” to the SAD candidate, adding that he will continue to be the “real MLA”.
After the results, Congress leaders called the verdict a “personal setback” to Sukhbir.
Victorious Congress candidate Raminder Awla said,”People wanted an actual candidate and not a proxy candidate as was projected by SAD president. I am thankful to the voters who have reposed trust in me.”
Pointing out Dr Raj Singh and Sukbir’s claim that the SAD chief will return to contest from Jalalabad in 2022 Assembly polls, a Congress leader said: “People decided not to bank on someone from opposition for 2 years and therefore preferred an MLA from ruling party.”
Interestingly, the Congress also managed to tide over rebellion by a local youth leader, Goldy Kamboj, who fought as an Independent after being denied a ticket. Kamboj lost his security deposit. The entire Congress campaign was led by Punjab Minister Rana Sodhi (MLA, Guru-Har-Sahai) and his son, Heera Sodhi. Awla is believed to be close to the Sodhis.
Prior to this, the Congress had last won the seat in 2002. In 2007, Sher Singh Ghubaya (now in Congress) had won on SAD ticket. He vacated the seat for Sukhbir in 2009 who went on to win. Later, Sukhbir retained the seat in 2012 and 2017.
In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Ghubaya was the Congress candidate from Ferozepur, but lost to Sukhbir by 33,000 votes from Jalalabad Assembly segment. SAD had first won from Jalalabad Assembly seat in 1997 by fielding Sher Singh Ghubaya.
Talking to The Indian Express, Heera Sodhi, said: “Congress fought this election unitedly and it is a personal defeat for Akali Dal from a SAD stronghold which is considered as the toughest seat in Punjab. Our vote share from border area also increased from 40 per cent in 2019 Lok Sabha polls to 55 per cent in the bypoll. Border villages have mosly Rai Sikh population and hence they too supported Congress and not a Rai Sikh candidate fielded by SAD.”
SAD general secretary Bikramjit Singh Majithia said,”People in Jalalabad could not accept anyone other than Badal family and perhaps this may be the reason for this loss. But we are introspecting the reasons.”
Both SAD and AAP had fielded Rai Sikh candidates, while the Congress had banked upon a Hindu face, who is a businessman with business interests in Punjab, UP and Rajasthan.
AAP candidate Mohinder Singh Kachura’s security deposit was forfeited as he got only 11,301 votes. SAD leaders said that after SAD lost 2017 Assembly polls, Sukhbir’s personal contact with the constituency had reduced and it could have played a role in the party’s defeat.